Food and Fandom: Snow Vatrushka

Ah boy, I haven’t been in a food and fandom kick since my birthday, and we really need to fix that! Thankfully, I found the right kind of inspiration.

Without fail, I’ve managed to do at least one dish from each of Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy, and for good reason! (See my food and fandom posts on pirozhki and medovik.)

The Winter of the Witch is the third book of Katherine Arden’s trilogy and follows Vasya’s adventures in old Rus. In the third book, things go to a head, as both the supernatural and the human worlds gear up for a war. It’s also where the gods of winter and summer come to a head, and boy oh boy, do I love it when we get a literal–and figurative–kiss of frost.

Hem hem. Enough about Vasya and Morozko. Let’s talk about Russian food.

The smell of the feast hit her first: of sweat and honey-wine and fat meat roasted in a great pit of coals at the center of a long hall. The room was packed with people, richly dressed; their ornaments gleamed copper and gold in the smoke-haze. The heat went up, making the air dance, to a hole in the center of the roof. A single star gleamed in the blackness, swallowed by the rising smoke. Servants bore in baskets of fresh bread, dusted with snow.

When I read that (and salivated a bit), I thought: “Confectioner’s sugar is kind of like dusting something with snow, so a bread dusted with confectioner’s sugar?” But I didn’t want to just make bread, and then randomly sprinkle sugar-dust on it. That’s kind of the simple interpretation of “bread dusted with snow.”

Once again, I scoured the interwebs for the perfect Russian recipe. Now, the last two recipes I’d done that were inspired by Russian folklore and Arden’s books were from Natasha’s Kitchen, so shoutout to her because she actually does have an iteration of the bread I wanted to try to make. That being said, I am not a cherry fan and I wanted to work with the ingredients I had on-hand, plus a sweet cheese for the filling.

Which is why I turned to Bake-Street for their take on vatrushka.

I love cheese bread. I’ve done a Romanian pasca before, and honestly I’ve been wanting to up my bread baking skills a bit more. This one definitely needed a bit more work, in my opinion, but I did decide that mascarpone is my new favorite cheese to bake with.

I’ve altered the ingredients below.

Vatrushka – Russian sweet bread

Dough Ingredients

  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp and a pinch dry yeast
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Cheese Filling Ingredients

  • 8 oz mascarpone cheese (room temp.)
  • 1 large egg (leave some egg white for brushing)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp bread flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt

I deviated a little bit in making the bread itself, but I found that I made silly mistakes when I did so (like forgetting to let the yeast activate in the warm milk PRIOR to putting everything into the bread flour mixture), so again, I point you toward the actual recipe so you can read up on how the bread and cheese fillings were made.

Verdict: The parents actually compared this to the pan de bonos (Colombian cheese bread) they loved, though I explained to them that this one was Russian-inspired and definitely didn’t use the same type of cheese (I used feta the last time I made pan de bono, though I might alter that recipe and actually use mascarpone…). I still need to work on the bread part of the baking, and I decided against sprinkling “snow” on the top because the cheese itself talked of snowy sweetness, but otherwise, the whole thing was really good with tea!

I’d recommend it, if you have the time to make bread, that is.


Mango Madness, Pt. 2

The mango cake rears its head again! Honestly, this is a reprise of the first mango cake I’d made, but with several changes.

Now, mangoes aren’t in season at the moment, and I’m only sorry that I couldn’t find any really ripe mangoes at the moment to take this recipe to the next level. That being said, it still came out really well, and the cake itself was the desired softness I really found lacking in the last cake. So for the sake of keeping the actual recipe I used in one spot (something that’ll help me at the very least), I’m throwing this on my blog. That way if I ever want to make it again, I can just go to one place, right?

We totally know I’m making this again…

Shoutouts to Natasha’s Kitchen and Make Fabulous Cakes for the fabulous recipes I ended up using to make this delicious concoction.

Chiffon Cake

(courtesy of Make Fabulous Cakes)

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (separate 1/2 cup sugar for egg white mixture)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) orange juice
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) oil
  • 8 egg whites
  • 1 tsp. (5 g) cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 325°F. Prepare cake pans (I used two 8″ pans and a smaller 6″ one for the leftover tier) by greasing and lining them with parchment paper. Melting butter and spreading it around each pan works, but otherwise cooking spray works just as well.

Sift cake flour in bowl and add 1 cup of the sugar, baking powder and salt mixture.

Mix orange juice, oil and egg yolks.

Make a well in dry mixture and pour in juice mixture. Mix together (I used an electric hand mixer) for about 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.

In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites until frothy. Add in cream of tartar. Slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks have formed.

Gently fold the eggwhites in to the batter.

Pour batter in cake pans and bake for approx. 45 minutes.

Loosen the sides with a knife or metal spatula and invert to a metal rack almost immediately.

Mango Cake Filling

(courtesy of Natasha’s Kitchen)

  • 2 mangoes cut into thin, uneven strips (honestly, this is a decoration choice)
  • 2 medium fresh mangos (which was puréed to about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 to 4 Tbsp sugar if needed

I used a hand blender to puree the mixture. The sweeter the mango, the less sugar you need to add. For this particular instance, I ended up putting the full 4 tablespoons because the mangoes were not sweet (sigh). Over the summer, I got away with not putting any sugar at all, and it came out fresh and delicious all the same!

Cream Cheese Frosting

(courtesy of Natasha’s Kitchen)

  • 16 oz cream cheese (2 packages), softened
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all filling ingredients in a large bowl and mix (I used an electric hand mixer). Mix on high to around 5/6 minutes until frosting is soft and retains shape.

And then, once all this is done, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!

Putting the cake together is pretty much what takes up the most time for me, to be honest. I baked the cake the day before I had to put it together, just so I could freeze it overnight and then cut each layer in half easily. With chiffon cake, this step is particularly important, because it is a SOFT CAKE. Without the solidity of frozen cake, there’s a greater chance of ripping pieces of the cake on the sides. Each layer (four on the main cake in total) got a good slathering of frosting on the side, then a layer of puree, and repeat. What I would have liked to change was the amount of frosting in between. The cake could have used a bit more, to be honest.

In any case, I covered the cake up, decorated the sides with the uneven mango strips, and garnished it all with piped frosting and little pieces of mango.

It actually came out prettier than what I’d imagined in my head. But, ya know, I have my moments sometimes!

Verdict: The cake was made for my sister’s apartment-warming party, and it quite literally got finished within the next few minutes after it got sliced up. I’ve also got someone wanting an order of the cake for Christmas, so I’m guessing it was a success! It certainly tasted good, though again, much of its epic taste would have been heightened if I’d managed to find yellow mangoes as opposed to the red ones.

Food and Fandom: Genya’s Almond Kulich

So I pretty much finished the Grisha trilogy recently, and if it were up to me, I’d make all the pastries that were mentioned in every page. Heck, I probably still might go back to a few of the foods that were showcased in the books, but a lot of them did come from Ruin and Rising.

One of which was the almond kulich.

“It’s just a ring.”

Zoya sighed and held the emerald up so it flashed. “I am horrible,” she said abruptly. “All these people dead, and I miss pretty things.”

Genya bit her lip, then blurted. “I miss almond kulich.”

It wasn’t a big mention, but I do adore Genya, and of course she’d mention missing the food at Os Alta of all the things to miss. Naturally, I went to look up a recipe and found one for almond ginger kulich. Bread takes such a long time to make, and I still haven’t got the hang of it much yet. I find I’m usually overbaking or overproofing something, but at least my arms are getting a workout with the kneading!

Kulich is apparently Russian bread that’s served during Easter. It kind of reminded me of the Romanian pasca, which I’d done a while back, which was this sweet cheese bread that was AMAZING. So honestly, I was way excited to try this one out.

Almond Kulich

Original recipe found at Vintage Kitchen.

I also…didn’t quite follow the recipe again, because I’m not a scotch and brandy kind of person, and I didn’t have crystallized ginger handy. SO. I used rum to infuse the raisins, cranberries, and orange zest. Instead of the ginger, I substituted with dried cranberries. I also ended up breaking off a third of the bread dough to make a nut-less version for allergy purposes. Honestly, I think that’s the one that came out the best.

Behold! A nut-less brioche-looking kulich!

And the best part? It’s great with tea!

Verdict: The fruits and almonds definitely weighed the bread down a bit, so it’s not as light and fluffy as I’d hoped. That being said, perhaps next time I’ll use cake flour instead of all-purpose and mix that with the bread flour. All that said, the almond version brought such a good combo of sweet and salty to the tongue, and with some bergamot and orange leaf tea? Holy crap, I definitely have my tea-time snacks for the next few days!

Of Mangoes and Sponges

So I’m sitting here eating cake (because of course I am), and I thought to myself: “I never actually did write a post about the mango cake I made a few weeks back…”

And because I haven’t actually got a book review ready for today, I figure, WHY NOT talk about the loveliness that is mangoes and cake?

Isn’t that scrumptious?

So I decided on mango cake because it was my father’s birthday, and he does love mangoes. Normally, we could easily get really good mango cake at the local Filipino bakeshop, but come on. I bake, and I wanted to try to make some kind of mango cake at some point.

Lucky for me, I found the perfect recipe to emulate! I found this mango sponge cake recipe at Natasha’s Kitchen, and she really does do a good job with the recipe, so I won’t go too much into it!

The recipe did call for thinly sliced mangoes, but with my oafish fingers, that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I decided to cut a bunch up into cubes (or as close to cubes as I could) and then deal with the decorations by overcompensating with frosting. Oh, hah, but let me tell you about that frosting.

I’ve decided that I’m no longer a big fan of buttercream frosting. Too much buttery taste, which, if you paired it with something else, could actually taste good. All in all, though, there is a time and place for buttercream, and for all else, I usually like the touch of plain ole’ whipping cream.

In this case, though, the cream cheese frosting really did highlight the flavor of the mango and the cake! It wasn’t super sweet, it was lighter than I’d expected (and this is surprising, considering how dense cream cheese can be), and it was tres delicieuse!

In hindsight, the only thing I would change is the actual cake. I don’t know if it was because of my oven, which burnt the cake a bit, or if it’s the nature of sponge cake to be dense, but I would have loved it a bit more if it was a softer texture. Next time, I might try a mango chiffon cake with cream frosting…just the thought of it makes me drool.

That being said, this cake was still really good, especially once I started stacking each layer with the cream cheese frosting and the mango puree. (Side note: I actually didn’t add any extra sugar on the puree. The mangoes themselves were pretty sweet as is, and sugar seemed overkill.)

The cream cheese frosting, though…I may have run out of cream cheese frosting by the end of it. Silly me for wanting to go crazy on cream cheese frosting decorations!

Still, totally worth.

Verdict: All in all, it was a crowd-pleaser, to a point my picky dad even had more the next day. Again, the cake itself could have been chiffon softer, and I would make note not to add any extra sugar in the mango puree, if only to make the actual mango flavor shine. The cream cheese frosting was absolutely delicious!

Food and Fandom: Medovik and Maslenitsa

I needed to get back into gear with the blogging, and what better time to do so especially when all I want to do is talk about food? I think it’s totally the right time, mostly because for me, Lent just began and it’s practically a countdown for me until Easter.

Why is this important to mention? Because of Maslenitsa!

“Maslenitsa was the three-day sun-feast, one of the oldest holidays in Muscovy. Older by far than the bells and crosses that marked its passing, though it had been given the trappings of religion to mask its pagan soul. This–the last day before the festival began–was the last day they could eat meat until Easter. Vladimir, Olga’s husband, was still in Serpukhov, but Olga had arranged a feast for his household–wild boar and stewed rabbit and cock-pheasants, and fish.” – The Girl in the Tower

I had honestly been waiting to get back into the swing of Food and Fandom-ness, especially when it comes to the fictional department, but I’d been so blah lately with books for the past two months that I couldn’t bring myself to be inspired. When I finally read my advanced copy of The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden, though, I started getting really enthusiastic about the story to warrant another visit to Russia for some delectable treats.

Also, I’d gone to visit The Russian Tea Room in New York City and was absolutely inspired.

Seriously, how lovely is this place?!

Suffice to say that when February came rolling along, and the fact that my mother’s birthday almost coincided with the beginnings of Lent, I had every opportunity to find something to make that was based off of what I’d read from The Girl in the Tower.


“For a few more days, the people could still eat butter and lard and cheese and other rich things, and so in the kitchen they were making butter-cakes by the score, by the hundred, cakes enough for days of gluttony.” – The Girl in the Tower

I’m outright refusing to get into the word origin of this cake, because for the most part, I was finding the word “medovik” when it came to looking up Russian honey cakes. Even though at some point it might also be called a smetannik…but ANYWAY. Natasha’s Kitchen (where I got the recipe from) calls it a medovik, so I’m going to call it that.

I chose to do a Russian honey cake because it was the closest iteration I could find that would best fit Arden’s world. A lot of the ingredients sound like they’d be used commonly, especially when it comes to making cakes. I barely used butter, but sour cream came into play, as did flour, eggs, and honey.

And because I was kind of in an experimenting mood, I wound up using the strong wild flower honey that I got from England almost a year ago. You could definitely taste the flavor in the cake afterwards, which is GREAT, because I adore honey.

Anyway, I didn’t change much in the recipe, so I suggest heading over to Natasha’s Kitchen to get the ingredients and cooking method.

What I should have changed was the way I rolled out these effing layers. WHY DIDN’T I JUST FLOUR THE SURFACE? WHY DID I HAVE TO USE PARCHMENT PAPER?

My arms were sore by the end of it, and I couldn’t even roll it all the way to 9 inches.

So…8-inch diameter cake it is!

From there it was pretty much easy peasy lemon squeezy. I was half-expecting my frosting to collapse on me, but I think it actually held well! The sour cream with the frosting and the sugar stiffened enough to keep the shape of the cake, but it also moistened the cake layers themselves.


Verdict: I honestly thought I’d be chomping on a layered frosted cookie. But that was not the case! It was delicious, and the sour cream and honey flavors came through. In the future, I might experiment with condensed milk or cream cheese, though I got no complaints with the sour cream. It’s mostly for me at this point, because after a day or two, the smell and flavor of the sour cream started to get a bit more overpowering than usual.

So all in all, being back to doing Food and Fandom things was so totally worth.